January 1, 2014

5 Tips on Starting & Maintaining a Yoga Practice.

Now that 2014 is officially here, many will decide to start a yoga practice.

As a general rule, I get the most new students in January. (I once subbed for a beginner’s class the first week of January and had well over 20 students.)

However, by early March, those numbers tend to drop dramatically and on the whole, only about one out of four continue to regularly practice yoga.

While some decide that yoga simply isn’t for them, the biggest reason I have found for giving up practice is some sort of frustration, be it from an injury, a feeling of boredom or plateauing in practice, or some combination of both.

Below are five tips designed to avoid this. While they may not guarantee that you will fall in love with yoga and become a lifelong yogi/yogini, they may make it easier to start and stay on your yoga journey.

1. Check with a healthcare provider first if you have any chronic conditions, muscular, or bone injuries.

We’ve all heard it’s a good idea to check with a healthcare provider before starting any new physical fitness program. However, many do not seem to think this applies to yoga. Granted, yoga is more than a physical practice; we’ve all heard that yoga is for everybody—but here’s the reality: yoga may not be for every single body, and it’s possible to get injured.

While asking a yoga instructor, preferably the one you intend to do yoga with, if yoga is right for you, it’s far better to ask someone with a medical background. Contrary to what some think, most yoga teacher training programs offer little in the way of anatomy and physiology. Most yoga instructors–myself included—are simply not knowledgeable about medical conditions. Therefore, as a pro, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

2. Start slow.

It’s tempting to dive right in. Some instructors encourage newbies to dive right in and practice several days a week, but I am not one of them. In my experience, doing so leads to faster burn out and may result in injuries. Generally speaking, a brand new person is not going to feel that great following their first few classes. Many of us have no idea how stiff we actually are and stretching any muscle or group of muscles that haven’t been stretched in a while is not going to feel too pleasant.

When I started, I went to a once-a-week beginner’s class and then worked my way up to two times a week after six weeks. You may move faster or slower depending on your body and circumstances, but at least start slow.

3. Be realistic about what yoga has to offer.

As much as I love yoga and think it’s pretty damn amazing, I know it is not a panacea. Yoga can do many great things, but it will not solve all your physical or emotional problems. You may become a lot more flexible then you ever thought possible over time, but wanting to, say, master every pose on Light on Yoga is not realistic for 99 percent of us.

I’ve met people who became yoga evangelicals in a short period of time. Usually, most of them burnt out and many quit practicing yoga all together.

By all means, share your love of yoga with others if you feel like it, but don’t try to recruit others to yoga and/or expect everyone to share your new found love.

4. Don’t approach yoga as all or nothing.

Life isn’t perfect. You may skip practice for a few weeks due to prior commitments, time issues, etc. If that happens, resume when you can. Don’t think that you have to make up for it by throwing yourself into additional practices and likewise, don’t believe that because you missed several practices, you are out of the game. You’re not.

The truth is, even instructors may go for periods of time without a consistent practice. (We’re human after all.)

Also, don’t worry that your regular instructor will chide you or make you feel guilty. They won’t. (See the above paragraph for why.)

5. Keep some sort of journal or documentation of your yoga journey and the progress made along the way.

This doesn’t need to be elaborate. One of the simplest ways to do this is to take a series of pictures documenting your progress in various poses. Neither the poses nor your alignment need be Yoga Journal-worthy. However, it can be exciting to see just how far you may have come in a relatively short period of time. (Speaking from experience, I can clearly recall the first time my heels touched the ground in downward facing dog. It thought, “Wow! I am actually doing this!”)

Keeping some sort of record is good for the times when you feel like you’re going nowhere or have hit a plateau. Photos are powerful, visual reminders that you are indeed going somewhere even if it doesn’t feel like it. Plus, if you ever decide to quit yoga and then return, you have a good idea of what you were able to do when you were practicing regularly.

Many people decide at the beginning of the year that they want to practice yoga only to quickly lose interest and never get back on the mat again. While there is no guarantee that this will not happen to you, taking the above steps will at least make it more likely that you’ll be able to give yoga a fair chance and see what it has to offer you before you decide if you want to commit to it for the long term or not.

If you’re still on the fence, then I suggest at least trying out a class or two with the above in mind. After all, you have nothing to lose, but a lot to potentially gain.


Relephant Reads:

How Yoga Changes your Body—Starting the Day you Begin. [Infographic]

20 Things to Know Before Starting a Yoga Practice.

6 Things That Happen A Year (or so) Into Your Yoga Practice. ~ Val Geisler


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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: elephant archives

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